In order to address systemic inequities while expanding services and frequency of service, Rep. Hank Johnson (D- GA) is introducing the “Stronger Communities through Better Transit Act.” The act will create a new formula grant program available to urban and rural transit providers. Through the grants program, an additional $20 billion in funding for operations will be made available, over and above existing transit spending. The goal is to increase service frequency, provide additional hours of service and add new services to their regions with a goal of decreasing wait times, increasing utility of the service and providing better service to those who need it most.
Funding would be made available for all types of transit, such as buses, trains, demand-response service, and paratransit. The bill is specifically targeted to provide new funding services above and beyond existing service. Current services cannot be funded through this bill. Additionally, the transit agency will be required to provide a match for the operating costs. For most projects the match required will be 50%, in areas of persistent poverty or underserved communities the match requirement is only 20% of the cost.
Currently large transit agencies are not able to use federal funds to support operational expenses. Operational expenses refer to the routine activities that support transit service. These may include paying the operators, cleaning vehicles and stations, minor vehicle repairs and providing the fuel needed to keep the vehicles moving. Small and rural agencies are able to use federal funds for operations, but this results in less money available for capital needs.
Many transit agencies struggle to pay for operations using only fares and local or state contributions. This leads to poor service while limiting access to jobs and essential services. A more balanced federal program would ensure that transit agencies can not only provide safe, modern vehicles and facilities, but also more and better service.